Tips for Wild Camping
Wild camping and its variations (free camping and stealth camping) is a really handy skill for independent bike touring.
The reason you need to be able to spot a campsite anywhere is that bicycle travel is unpredictable. You never know how weather, terrain, energy levels, flat tires and other factors will affect your distance for the day. Even if you plan on sticking to populated areas and staying in campsites or hotels, these uncertainties mean you should be prepared if you don’t reach your expected destination.
Camping out will also help you travel on a budget, especially in countries like Canada and Spain, where camping tends to be very expensive – sometimes almost as much as a cheap hotel.
For many people, the thought of wild camping, outside the confines of formal accommodation, is daunting at first. You may worry about the police coming to move you on or trouble in the middle of the night from strangers or animals. These are natural fears and the more you camp out, the more you’ll realise how safe wild camping is.
During our whole trip, we were never troubled by anyone approaching our tent at night, though shepherds in the Middle East often came to invite us home or offer us treats like fresh bread.
No matter where you are in the world, you are very unlikely to be bothered by anyone as long as you are respectful and follow some basic guidelines:
- Find a spot away from houses and hidden from any roads. You want to be out of sight of passersby. Look on your map for areas marked as woodland, which often offer good camping potential. You may also find that small hills by the side of the road can give you cover if you just haul your bike up to the peak and over the other side.
- Don’t deliberately trespass. Look for somewhere you can camp without jumping fences or crossing onto marked private property.
- Don’t camp in dry riverbeds as they can come to life overnight with a little rain. The rain may fall several kilometers away from you but a stream still ends up flooding through your tent! Equally, camping spots near water like a lake or riverbank can be cooler at night than more inland areas.
- In bear country, cook at least 200 meters away from your tent and string all your food and garbage up in a tree.
- Don’t start a fire or do anything else that might attract attention, like playing loud music.
- Leave early the next morning and take all your garbage with you.
Generally you will be left alone while wild camping but be prepared for inquisitive visitors, especially in countries like Morocco and Asia. In India, numerous cyclists report waking up to find dozens of people outside their tent or even inquisitive farmers unzipping the tent door to find out who is inside!
If you are stuck trying to find a place to camp, it is always worth asking local people if they know where you could put your tent. Most people are friendly and obliging and you may even get an offer to camp in their back garden or stay the night in their home. Don’t seek out this option unless you are feeling social because chances are you’ll have to talk a lot and will be introduced around the neighbourhood. If you can plan in advance, you may also want to take a look at clubs like Warm Showers, which offer hospitality for cyclists.
Some people have trouble getting used to the idea of wild camping. This was certainly true for Friedel, who hardly slept at all when we first started putting our tent up in the woods. As another cycle tourist said, she could hear an ant fart in the night. If you are like this, just give it time. Start out slowly and build up your confidence. It is worth persisting with, both for the practical sides of wild camping and the beautiful spots you can find.
If you would like to read more about wild camping, try looking at these excellent thoughts by other cycle tourists: